Judge Dredd warns of the future we're fearing, but his publisher Rebellion is teasing us with "unexpected" announcements for 2000 AD. At Sunday's Thought Bubble '2000 AD: The Galaxy's Greatest Panel' panel, 2000 AD creators Rob Williams, Anna Morozova, Tom Foster, and El Sandifer are scheduled to talk about the long-running weekly anthology - from its most recent stories, to what's to come in the new year.
And yes, Popverse will be there covering the whole thing live.
Come back Sunday, November 12 at 2:00 PM GMT (that's 9 AM EST) to learn everything that's announed at the '2000 AD: The Galaxy's Greatest Panel' panel - and perhaps a few anecdotes along the way.
Borag Thungg, Earthlets. I'm here at the 2000 AD panel here at Thought Bubble, although we have about 10 minutes before it actually kicks off.
And we're off! Steve Morris, moderator, introduces Laura Bailey, Rob Williams, El Sandifer, Anna Morozova, and Tom Foster as the panelists. The opening slide says "Borag Thungg, Yorkshire Earthlets (Ey Oop)."
Morris is outlining the upcoming big 2000 AD releases: First up is Nemesis the Warlock Definitive Edition, out in December. The 2000 AD Art of Steve Dillion Apex Edition is out in summer 2024, with an Arthur Ranson and then a Complete Button Man Apex Edition to follow. There will be a Master Works paperback series launching, with oversize Brian Bolland Judge Dredd artwork.
There's a Slaine: The Horned God Anniversary Edition out next summer, and available for pre-order in December, as well as the Rogue Trooper: Blighty Valley collection, written by Garth Ennis, available in July 2024.
Now Rob Williams is talking about Judge Dredd: Poison, the current Dredd storyline. "Simon Fraser did four series of Hershey following [the Chief Judge] on her Long Walk... Eventually, spoilers, Hershey died at the end of that story. Poison is, basically, a whodunnit road movie with Dredd finding out who poisoned Hershey."
"The thing that excited me about it is, Dredd can be anything. It can be a comedy one week, a tragedy the next. I thought, let's do him as a detective. it's a procedural, with him finding out who killed the closest thing he's had to a friend," Williams says. The culprit is revealed in the prog out next week (but subscribers have it now).
Williams is asked about the Hershey strip. "Not many of Dredd's friends or enemies tend to hang around, but Hershey did for 40 years. The thing that interested Simon and I was that she was a woman of a certain age, and she'd trained since she was a kid who'd trained to be a Judge. When that's done, she has to work out her own shit and work out who she is."
"We felt that we were trying to tell a story that you don't see very often, which is letting a character die over four series. It's not a comedy, obviously," Williams says of the Hershey series.
Williams on how he sees Dredd today: "I think one of the reasons I enjoy writing Dredd is that he's Old Man Grumpy Dredd. I think it's a weird one, but one of the strengths of the series is that he ages in real time. Today, he's largely bionic, but one of the things that [co-creator] John Wagner did so brilliantly is that, there are shifts in his personality, but they're so glacial."
"The thing that clicked for me writing Dredd is that, beneath the stoicism, he feels things. Trying to write Dredd's feelings -- which are mainly rage-related -- is what interests me," Williams says. "For some reason, despite being such a stoic character, he's got a lot to say."
Judge Dredd: A Better World is coming in early 2024, by Williams, Arthur Wyatt, and Henry Flint. "Henry is a genius, and he's decided to break out scripts down, where we'd write five panel pages and he's handed in 12-14 panel pages. I think it might be the best thing Henry Flint has ever done."
A Better World is the continuation of the longrunning subplot wherein the Judges have permitted a trial to fight crime through... education and funding social reform...? What's more surprising is that... it's working. Will the Judges allow the program to take over the entire city, if it works? "Will a fascist police force allow this to happen? It's effective Defund the Police, but certain figures in Mega-City One are not fond of that, and it's causing a schism," Williams says.
Also coming in 2024: Rend & Tear with Tooth & Claw, a Dredd serial by Williams and Scalped artist RM Guera. “We were at a convention in Prague and he said, let’s do another Dredd. Let’s do a longer Dredd," Williams reveals. "It’s a survival horror story where Dredd and a team are off on a mission and something doesn’t go off as planned. And from then on, they’ve got to try to survive. It’s as linear as that. It’s trying to strip away all these things so that, by the end of the story, it’s ‘Can I survive?’ It’s effectively Jaws or Alien in Alaska.”
Laura Bailey is talking about the new series of Demarco PI, beginning in Judge Dredd Megazine #462. "She thinks of [her case] as a straightforward cashgrab. The client is quite rich, and his stock's going missing. It seems simple enough, but he's working for a company that has quite an overbearing surveillance system, so it should be quite open and shut... but it never is, is it?"
Demarco, a former Judge, is now governed by her own moral compass, as opposed to the Justice System. "I want to build some continuity for her character, because she's a character I care about so much."
Bailey is talking about being a writer who got her job at 2000 AD via Thought Bubble's talent search panels; she won on her second go-around. "It was so great that it happened. I'm not trying to rub it in, anyone," she says laughing. The first time out, though, she admits, "I bombed. It happens."
El Sandifer is talking about her experience writing Future Shocks, the one-off shorts series that she's started contributing to 2000 AD. "The first one published was the second one written. I just thought it would be funny to have an actual artist draw out screwed-up AI hands. But then I had to work out why I'd make real artists having to draw weird AI hands." It's a body horror story about reality having budget cuts. "There's only one way to write this," she jokes.
Sandifer is explaining Future Shocks. "It's a standalone story, not in Dredd or Slaine, just six pages, bespoke, just create a world and blow it up. It's both tremendously liberating, but also because there have been 40+ years of them by this point, absolutely terrifying."
Sandifer on the second (but pitched first) Future Shock, Laser Lennox -- which is an intentional callback to an idea that both Alan Moore and Grant Morrison have mined in their own early days: an aging space hero dealing with old age poorly. "The fun thing about comics is making artists draw horrible things, and somehow, they like it. I asked Jimmy Broxton to draw a human, expressive skull, and he did it!"
What is it like telling a complete story in five or six pages, asks Morris? "It's about coming up with something that is that shape," Sandifer says. "For the most part, it's coming up with a really great simple premise that doesn't need more than six pages. You've got about three plot beats you can handle in six pages. Here is the situation, here is what happens, and here is the surprising end. That's a Future Shock!" "That's why they're such a good proving ground for new writers," Williams says.
"I'm feeling hard done by! I only had four pages!" jokes Bailey. "The first time I ever pitched a Future Shock to 2000 AD, I got a letter back saying, 'Congratulations, you have pitched the most unoriginal Future Shock in history,'" Williams remembers. "He actually said, 'We first published this story in 1978.' He included photocopies."
Bailey isn't the only 2000 AD creator to come in through a Thought Bubble talent contest. Tom Foster got his start at the artist contest 10 years ago. "Four pages doesn't sound a lot to a writer, but it's a big stumbling block for an artist!" he says with a laugh.
"It's a big hurdle, that first hurdle," Foster says of working from a script for the first time. Most artists are "used to just drawing for fun. It's not very fun to draw a hallway from a high angle. You've got to not just make them visually interesting, but you've got to make it satisfying to look at."
"Trying to draw people in suits, walking down the street... there's so much study that has to go into each panel, and only from doing it over and over again and again, and again, it's a pretty big challenge," says Foster. Sandifer says that a Future Shock is an even bigger challenge for an artist, because there's no space for splashy stuff to hide behind.
Anna Morozova and Tom Foster are both illustrating Smash!, the three-issue miniseries reviving classic British comic characters that has just launched. Foster draws a prologue set in Victorian London. "It was a reminder of how taxing [Future Shock] style of storytelling is," Foster says; "it's all one location, a large cast of characters..."
Anna Morozova is talking Smash! "I was so excited when I got the offer to illustrate the book. I was familiar with some of the characters -- I was familiar with The Spyder, who was a very popular character outside the UK, but in Europe, there are some fantastic Italian and Scandanavian artists who worked on him. It was a fantastic inspiration."
The Steel Claw -- who is essentially an invisible man-esque character -- was the most difficult character to draw, ironically, because he's meant to fade into the background. "It was quite challenging, but quite fun," Morozova says.
Smash! is "the mix between MAD Magazine and the Pink Panther," Morozova says. "There's one particular item that everyone's after, and it brings out all of these British legacy characters. It's one very quirky strip, and Paul Grist [who's writing the book] is a treasure."
Morozova also illustrated David Barnett's Lowborn High, which has been running in the 2000 AD Regened issues -- intended for younger readers. "No pressure, but it was originally intended to be illustrated by Philip Bond," she jokes. "It's a fascinating story, which is kind of a mix between Harry Potter and [old school British kids' soap opera] Grange Hill."
The Lowborn High collection is available for pre-order now, with the series having just completed its serialization. The book is out in April.
Now we're previewing future 2000 AD serials: Full Tilt Boogie by Alex De Campi and Eduardo Ocaña returns in January 2024. "It's Alex doing space madness," Morris jokes. Also coming back in January is folk horror series Thistlebone, by TC Eglington and Simon Davis. The third serial is subtitled "The Dule Tree."
Tom Foster is talking about the upcoming Judge Dredd collection, Judge Dredd: A Penitent Man, which he illustrates from a Ken Neimand script. "It's about a Judge who's abdicated his responsibilities... and tried to reintegrate himself into civilian life in Mega-City One to varying degrees of success. They come up with loggerheads with Dredd on a number of occasions. The challenge of the story is presenting a law enforcement official in an authoritarian state, and they've overstepped their authority in a pretty significant way. Trying to make a character like that to any degree sympathetic is a challenge."
"When the world is so terrible, how does everyone else react?" Morris says about the appeal of writing stories set in the Judge Dredd world that doesn't focus on the iconic lawman himself.
Tom Foster is being shockingly humble about his artwork, saying that he's comforted that the collected edition of A Penitent Man holds together even though he thinks that his art dips in places. (He credits colorist Chris Blythe with keeping it so consistent.)
"As someone trying to break into the industry, there's nothing else like 2000 AD in giving people the chance to break into based on the quality of their work," Sandifer says about the fact that both Bailey and Foster broke in through the contests. "It's a gift."
The back of A Penitent Man will include a black and white gallery of process work by Foster. "They gave me quite a few pages to play with," he teases. The book will be released in March 2024, and will be available from the 2000 AD webstore to preorder later this week. That webstore will also have a variant edition with a fully painted cover by Foster. "I was hoping to have it fully finished by the time of Thought Bubble, but COVID finally caught up with me."
And now we're wrapping up, as the panelists are sharing where con attendees can find them for the rest of the show (all couple hours of it). Laura Bailey gets the biggest laugh by announcing, "I'm off after this panel, you won't be able to find me anywhere!"
Foster snuck out one last piece of news: He's drawing the Dredd strip in this year's 2000 AD Holiday edition, out December 13! And with that, we're done!
Thanks, as always, for reading along, friends. Especially anyone in the US and reading first thing on Sunday morning. Go have breakfast!